by Martina Fuchs
GENEVA, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- Meatless burger maker Impossible Foods is planning to roll out meat alternatives in China as consumers in the country and around the globe are shifting to plant-based foods, the company's chief executive officer (CEO) said, arguing that a changing diet could also help turn back the clock on climate change.
The meat substitutes industry has received a boost in recent years due to healthier eating habits, more sustainable consumer behavior, as well as COVID-19 outbreaks in factories which have dealt major blows to the global meat supply chain.
"We have big plans for 2021, both growth in retail and significant growth in food service customers. We are working very hard on our international expansion, including China," CEO Pat Brown told Xinhua in an interview during the Web Summit, an annual gathering of tech leaders and entrepreneurs in Lisbon, which was held virtually this year.
Set up in 2011 and headquartered in California's Silicon Valley, the privately held food tech startup launched its first product, the Impossible Burger, in 2016. Its products taste like meat but are made from soy and potato proteins, flavors from heme, fats from coconut and sunflower oils, and binders.
Brown said the company planned to tap into the increasing Chinese appetite for a plant-based diet: "We have big plans for expanding in China both our beef and pork products and subsequent products. I think China is going to be the biggest part of our business in a couple of years, and ultimately it is going to have a huge impact on food security in China."
According to a report published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2019, Asia accounts for more than 46 percent of the world's meat consumption.
Demand for plant-based protein foods has surged across Asia, as health concerns as well as suspicion over links between wild animal meat and the coronavirus has prompted consumers to rethink and change their diets.
China has become a battleground for domestic plant-based meat makers as well as multinationals in recent months.
Swiss food giant Nestle announced in May that it would build its first plant-based food facility for Asia in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) and that it could launch faux meat products by the end of this year.
At the same time, Chinese startups, such as Starfield Food Science Technology Limited and Zhenmeat, are also developing their own meat substitute products.
"Our customers in the U.S. are meat consumers. They're not necessarily people looking for plant-based products. The customers that we're going after are the 99 percent of the Chinese population that is still buying animal-based products," Brown said.
Impossible Foods has so far focused on selling its products in grocery and retail stores as well as fast food restaurant chains, including Burger King and Starbucks, across the United States. In September, the company started selling its Impossible Sausage in Hong Kong.
But as the new wave of vegetarian and vegan meat is approaching mainstream status, companies, including Impossible Foods and rival Beyond Meat, have also drawn criticism, with skeptics warning that the products are not as healthy or sustainable as proponents claim.
Supporters, meanwhile, have argued that producing plant-based food and eating less meat or replacing meat with plant-based products could significantly boost the planet's ability to fight climate change compared with animal agriculture, which typically uses more land and water.
According to the FAO, raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined.
Animal agriculture also uses about 70 percent of agricultural land and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution, the FAO has said.
Last year, a report published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also said that plant-based diets and reducing meat consumption could help curb CO2 emissions and the impacts of global warming.
"Success in our mission means that we can turn back the clock on climate change," Brown said.
"We intend to have a huge impact on the world. Although we look like a food company, inside we are a company that is focused on saving our planet by addressing the biggest environmental threats we have ever faced," he noted. Enditem